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Transnational Communities Programme

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The Mobilisation and Participation of Transnational Exile Communities in Post-conflice Reconstruction: A Comparison of Bosnia and Eritrea

Short Summary / Long description / photos

Principal Researchers
Dr Richard Black
Sussex Centre for Migration Research
University of Sussex
Arts C, Falmer
Brighton BN1 9SF
Dr Khalid Koser
Sussex Centre for Migration Research
University of Sussex
Arts C, Falmer
Brighton BN1 9SF
Dr Nadje Al-Ali
Sussex Centre for Migration Research
University of Sussex
Arts C, Falmer
Brighton BN1 9SF
Dr Richard Black
Tel: 01273 877090
Fax: 01273 623572
Duration of Research
1 October 1998 to 31 August 2000

Short Summary

Even after Independence in Eritrea and Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia, it seems unlikely that the majority of their substantial refugee population in Europe will wish to return permanently. Yet there are clear indications that many are keen to participate in the reconstruction of their countries of origin without returning.

In this context, this research project will explore the contribution which these exile communities are making to reconstruction 'back home'. It focuses on three main areas:

  • First, existing activities of exile communities in reconstruction - such as political lobbying, economic investment, or promotion of human rights;
  • Second, their capabilities to participate in reconstruction. These may depend on the resources available to the community, or on its internal organisation. They also depend upon the extent to which individuals still identify with their country of origin.
  • Thirdly, how the policies of governments at 'home' and in Europe influence the participation of the communities in reconstruction.

The research focuses on Bosnian refugees and labour migrants in the UK and the Netherlands, and on Eritrean refugees in the UK and Germany. It also incorporates fieldwork in both Bosnia and Eritrea. Both quantitative and qualitative methodologies will be used, including household surveys, depth interviews with a range of respondents, household studies and network analysis.

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The Mobilisation and Participation of Transnational Exile Communities in Post-conflice Reconstruction: A Comparison of Bosnia and Eritrea

Long Description


Exiles from Bosnia and Eritrea provide two recent examples of transnational communities. Both communities include large refugee populations, significant porportions of whom are in European countries - 580,000 Bosnians are estimated to be in countries of the EU (Black et al, 1997) and about 25,000 Eritreans are estimated to be in Europe (EUROSTAT, 1998). Even after independence in Eritrea and Peace Accords in Bosnia, it is unlikely that the majority of these refugees will return permanently, most having been gratned permanent residence rights in their host countries (with the exception of Bosnians in Germany). In the case of Bosnia, the exile community also includes labour migrants who arrived in Europe from fromer Yuogslavia during the 1960s and 1970s. Attention in Bosnia and Eritrea is now turnign to the extent to which these transnational exile communities can be mobilised to contribute to reconstruction without returning.

In both Bosnia and Eritrea, the challenges of reconstruction are recognised to extend beyond economic development and restructuring, and to include political democratisation, social integration of diverse ethnic or religious communities, and the resurrection of a 'cultural' infrastructure. There are clear indications that many within the exile communities are keen to participate in this reconstruction process. Some 82,000 Eritreans outside Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan voted in the referendum for Eritrea's independence in1993 (Government of Eritrea, 1993). Although accurate data are not yet available, many Bosnians in Europe have also voted in recent elections in Bosnia. Recent fieldwork by the applicants amongst both communities indicates that links with their countries of origin now extend beyond the political to include, for example, trade and social networks (Black et al., 1997).

In many cases, the involuntary nature of their exile means that refugees tend not to maintain links with their countries of origin other than for the purposes of political mobilsation (McDowell, 1996). This is one characteristic which justifies the theoretical distinction between 'victim' and 'labour' diasporas (Cohen, 1997). The case of Eritrean and Bosnian exiles in the post-conflict era provides a valuable opportunity to reassess such theoretical distinctions. The re-engagement of the exile communities with their countries of origin suggests a 'transition' from 'victim' diasporas who flee involuntarily, to 'labour' diasporas who remain voluntarily. Studying such a transition has equally important policy implications, because the exile political activity of asylum migrant and refugee groups means they are often seen as a destablising element in national and international security (Widgren, 1990), which can in turn be used to justify restrictive asylum policies (Newland, 1993).

Aims and objectives

The main aim of this research project is to analyse the contribution which such transnational exile communities are making to reconstruction in their countries of origin. This aim will be achieved via three objectives: (1) an assessment of the activities of the exile communities in the reconstruction process; (2) an evaluation of the capabilities of the communities to participate in the reconstruction, including their self-identification with that process and with their home states, and (3) analysis of the policy context for the participation of exile communities in reconstruction. The project focuses on the case studies of Bosnian refugees and labour migrants in the UK and the Netherlands, and Eritrean refugees in the UK and Germany.

Relationship to existing literature

The broad framework for the project is informed by literature on the interactions between globalisation and the nation-state and democracy. In contrast to most of this literature which foucses on the challenges posed to the authority of nation-states by the existence of transnational communities (Jones, 1995), this project instead adopts an actor-oriented approach by asking how these communities contribute towards state-building, thus focusing on 'globalisation from below'.

More specifically, the most extensive literature concerning the potential contributions of migrants to development at home is that which focuses on flows of remittances from labour migrants (Russell, 1996; Russell and Teitelbaum, 1992)/ Recent research indicates that refugees also send home remittances (Diaz-Briquets and Perea-Lopez, 1997). Generally, however, there has been very little research on the relationship between refugees and their countries of origin, although a recent study of Iranian asylum seekers in the Netherlands indicates that such links may be as substantial and complex for refugees as they are for other migrants (Koser, 1997).

Most literature on remittances concerns individual links between migrants and their families and friends. The rejuvenated literature on diasporas provides a better insight into how links with home countries may be maintained by the collective community to serve a common purpose, and a number of anthropological studies of specific diasporas (e.g. Helweg, 1986; Ong and Nonini, 1997) demonstrate the range of impacts - from political to cultural - that diasporas can have on their home countries. The diaspora literature also demonstrates how the activities of diasporas can be influenced by political systems in their host countries and the foreign policies of their home countries (Sheffer, 1986), and is complemented by a tradition of mainly political science literature which concerns the mobilisation of ethnic and migrant groups (Bousetta, 1997).

The special condition of diasporas means that they are often globally dispersed, and a significant gap in the literature on the mobilisation of ethnic groups, including diasporas, concerns transnational networks between co-ethnics (Esman, 1986). This is one of the main foci of the research project. This presents the methodological challenge to extend the traditional local-scale of social network analysis (Mitchell, 1969), and is probably best informed by literature which considers the relevance of new communication technologies on social relationships (Colomy, 1992).

Theoretical rationale

The project seeks to revise traditional conceptions of refugee populations for whom return is considered a 'natural' trajectory; who are by definition 'in exile' in host countries, and for whom 'home' is automatically defined as the country of origin. Increasingly refugees form permanent populations in their host countries. They have become examples of transnational communities. By reconceiving refugees as transnational communities, the project responds to criticisms often levelled at refugee studies that they tend to isolate refugees from the broader context of other migration processes.

One of the theoretical challenges which arises in the new literature on diasporas is whether it is possible to distinguish different diaspora 'types' which have distinct characteristics - one such characteristic being the propensity to engage in developments in the country of origin (Cohen, 1997). By comparing the participation in reconstruction of Bosnian refugees with that of Bosnian labour migrants, the project will allow an examination of the validity of the some of the characteristics upon which a distinction is usually made between 'victim' and 'labour' diasporas (McDowell, 1996). The project can further illuminate the validity of these distinctions by asking to what extent 'victim' diasporas might take on the characteristics of 'labour' diasporas in the post-conflict context.

Most studies of globalisation which make reference to migration have typically focused on its effects in more developed countries, for example through facilitating highly-skilled migration or engendering social exclusion (Sassen, 1991). Far fewer studies have yet considered how globalisation through migration interacts with 'development' in poorer countries. To what extent does globalisation 'from below' impact upon development? Can global processes be 'harnessed' or directed to engender development? By focusing on how exile communities can participate in the reconstruction of their countries of origin from afar, this project hopes to contribute towards this theoretical gap.

Detailed research questions

The proposed research consists of three systematic research questions which will be analysed comparatively across the research populations.

  1. One research question concerns the activities of the exile communities for reconstruction in their home countries. These might be classified in a variety of ways. They may include political (lobbying), economic (remittances and investment), social (promotion of the human and other rights of certain religious or ethnic groups within the home society) and cultural (articles in newspapers) activities. They may take place at the individual (family networks), institutional (community organisations) or international (via international organisations) level. While direct activities might be focused on the home country, indirect activities might involve the application of pressure on the host government or international organisations for change in the home country, and might also include the promotion of the rights of the exile community itself.
  2. A second research question concerns the capabilities of the exile communites to participate in reconstruction in their home countries. Our definition of cababilities includes the extent to which individuals and communities identify with the process of reconstruction in their home countries, which is a prerequisite for them to apply themselves. At a more practical level, the capability to contribute may depend on the skills and resources available to the community, which in turn is probably influenced by factors such as length of time in the host country and opportunity structure in the host country. Capabilities also centre upon the internal organisation of the community, and it s motivation to maintain group solidarity. A specific area of interest is the extent to which communities in different host countries collaborate and mobilise for a common purpose, or even identify with that purpose.
  3. A third research question focuses on the policy context for the participation of exile communities in reconstruction in their home countries. First, to what extent and how is the participation of exile communities influenced by the policies of the host government or the foreign policy of the home government? Second, what elements might comprise a favourable polcy environment?

Research methods

Study sites

The research focuses on Bosnian refugees and labour migrants in the UK and the Netherlands, an Eritrean refugees in the UK and Germany. Although Germany has the largest populations of both Bosnian refugees and labour migrants in the EU, the refugees are almost all expected to return, in contrast to all other EU countries. After Germany, the UK and the Netherlands host the largest permanent populations of Bosnian refugees and labour migrants in Europe (at least 14,000 and 18,000 respectively). Although EUROSTAT data on the Eritrean population of Europe have yet to be compiled, Germany is known to host the largest refugee population (approximately 16,000) and the UK also has significant numbers (perhaps 5,000).


Following studies which have emphasised that the impact of migrants' remittances on development depends on a combination of factors in both the sending and receiving environment (Russell, 1996), our research methodology focuses on both the host and home countries to assess the contributions to reconstruction made by exile communities. Following studies of migrant organisations which have stressed that the positions of formal community organisations may not necessarily be representative of the migrant population in question (Bousetta, 1997), our research methodology combines research amongst individuals and community organisations. The research will have the following phases:

  1. In-depth interviews with representatives from the host government, relevant NGOs and other international organisations (e.g. IOM, ILO, UNHCR) and from the Bosnian and Eritrean consulates, in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.
  2. In-depth interviews with leaders from Bosnian and Eritrean community organisations in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.
  3. A social survey focusing on individuals and covering Bosnian refugees, Eritrean refugees, and Bosnian labour migrants in each identified study site.
  4. Interviews with a series of 'key informants' within each community in each study site in order to provide information on the relationship between community organisations and individuals, and to provide a perspective on participation in reconstruction as a negotiated activity.
  5. Network analysis covering households selected from each group in the survey.
  6. Fieldwork in both Bosnia and Eritrea will focus on assessing the impact of the participation of exile communities in reconstruction. Interviews will be conducted with relevant informants who are likely to include government and opposition representatives, Central bank staff and religious leaders. Focus group studies will be conducted to combine the insights of these various parties on the impact of exile communities.

Analytical framework

Objectives, activities, capabilities and the policy context will be analysed comparatively on the one hand between Bosnian and Eritrean refugees, and on the other hand between Bosnian labour migrants. This comparative framework is intended to illuminate the range, and different significance of, the variables which influence the overall process of the mobilisation of exile communities in post-conflict reconstruction. Each of these comparisons will be transnational, covering exile populations in two countries, and will also therefore allow political and other features of the country of origin to be included as variables in the analysis.

Institutional capacity

The research will be located within the recently-established Sussex Centre for Migration Research. A research advisory panel for the project has been formed, which includes two members from potential user communities (Nick Scott-Flynn from The Refugee Council and Ophelia Field from the European Consultation on Refugees and Exiles), as well as Mary Kaldor and Ann-Marie Goetz, members of faculty at the University of Sussex working respectively on the development of civil society institutions in Bosnia and democratisation in Africa. In addition to regular meetings with the advisory panel, a mid-project and end-of-project workshop will be convened, to which representatives from each refugee community, as well as from Government, NGO and other relevant organisations will be invited. A final report will also be circulated to all institutional respondents.


Black, R., Koser, K., Walsh, M. (1997) Conditions for the Return of Displaced Persons, Final Report for the European Commission Secretariat General, Justice and Home Affairs Task Force

Bousetta, H. (1997) Citizenship and political participation in France and the Netherlands, New community, 23(2):215-31

         Cohen, R. (1997) Global Diasporas: An introduction. UCL, London

         Colomy, P. (ed.) (1992) The Dynamics of Social Systems, Sage, London.

Diaz-Briquets, S. and Perez-Lopez, J. (1997) Refugee remittances: conceptual; issues and the Cuban and Nicaraguan experiences, International Migration Review, 31(2):411-47

Esman, M.J. (1986) Diasporas and international relations, in G. Sheffer (ed.) Modern Diasporas in International Politics, Croom Helm, London, pp.333-49

EUROSTAT (1998) Citizenship data, unpublished, EUROSTAT

Government of Eritrea (1993) Birth of a Nation, GOE External Affairs Office, Asmara.

Helweg, A.W. (1986) The Indian diaspora: influence of international relations, in G.Sheffer (ed.) Modern diasporas in International Politics, Croom Helm, London pp103-29

Jones, R.J.B. (1995) Globalization and Interdependence in the International Political Economy, Pinter, London

Koser, K. (1997) Social networks and the asylum cycle: the case of Iranians in the Netherlands, International Migration Review, 31(3):591-611

McDowell, C. (1996), A Tamil Asylum Diaspora: Sri Lankan Migration, Settlement and Politics in Switzerland, Bergahn, Oxford.

Mitchell, J.C. (ed.) (1969) Social networks in urban situations, Manchester University Press, Manchester.

                Newland, K. (1993) Ethnic conflict and refugees, Survival, 35(1):81-101.

                Ong, A. and Nonini, D. (eds.) (1997) Ungrounded Empires, Routledge, London

Russell, S.S. (1986) Remittances from international migration: a review in perspective, World Development, 14:677-696

Russell, S.S. and Teitelbaum, M.S. (1992) International Migration and International Trade, World Bank Discussion Papers, no. 160, The World Bank, Washington DC.

Sassen, S. (1991) The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ.

Sheffer, G. (1986) A new field of study: modern diasporas in international politics, in G. Sheffer (ed.) Modern Diasporas in International Politics, Croom Helm, London,pp.1-15

Widgren, J. (1990), Europe and international migration in the future: the necessity for merging, migration, refugee and development policies, in G. Loescher and L. Monahan (eds.), Refugees and International Relations, OUP, Oxford, pp.49-62

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mosque.jpg (4184 bytes)  A Mosque in the village of Mai Edaga in Eritrea.  It was paid for by an Eritrean  woman now living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia




tank1.jpg (6953 bytes) A destroyed tank on the front line between Ethiopia and Eritrea - the cost of the conflict has encouraged both governments to turn to the diaspora for contributions.  In the case of Eritrea, 50m USC was raised in 6 months in 1999.



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